WEST GLACIER – When the National Park Service announced $26 million in Centennial Challenge Projects it had approved for this year, there were loads of them associated with improved trails.
But only one will replace a missing staircase.
Magnificent Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park will see the return of a double-helix staircase that was torn out in the 1950s.
The staircase used to circle from Many Glacier’s grand lobby down to the hotel’s “lakeside level.”
The project, officially called “Reconstruct Historic Missing Double Helix Stairway at Many Glacier Hotel,” was one of two proposed Glacier projects to get the OK from the Park Service.
The other will employ youth from the Montana Conservation Corps to help rehabilitate the first mile of the popular Highline Trail near Logan Pass.
The Centennial Challenge Projects, which combine taxpayer dollars with private funding, are helping national parks across the country make improvements in advance of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary in 2016.
The most expensive of the 106 initiatives, costing almost $5.2 million, will rehabilitate and restore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Conservancy is chipping in $4 million to help fund that one.
Yellowstone National Park has the second-most expensive project, which will add walkways, a visitor center with public restrooms, and an amphitheater at the historic Roosevelt Arch located at the Gardiner entrance. The Yellowstone Foundation is contributing $1.5 million of its $2 million cost.
The Many Glacier staircase project will cost $243,300. Its cost is being split evenly between the National Park Service and the Darcy Estate, which contains funds designated to be used for renovating Glacier National Park hotels.
Cost of the Highline Trail project is $38,000. The Glacier National Park Conservancy is picking up $20,000 of that.
“The wonderful part of this is working with the partners to accomplish these,” Glacier spokeswoman Denise Germann said.
The double-helix staircase at the Many Glacier Hotel was removed 60-some years ago, apparently to make room for a gift shop in the lobby.
At the center of staircase was a fountain containing fish; Germann said it has not yet been determined whether another fountain will be included in the project.
The project’s proposal said the goal was to “re-create the historic look and feel of one of the most iconic places in the park.”
It’s actually just a small part of a massive, multi-year and ongoing renovation of the hotel on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake that started in 2001, five years after the Trust for Historic Preservation identified it as one of “America’s 11 Most Endangered Places.”
One of the most challenging parts of the renovation involved looping massive cables through the hotel toward the lakeside, then up over the roof and back toward the parking lot. While the cables pulled on the building, hydraulic jacks were used to straighten the lakeside walls back into position.
Some 35,000 guests stay at Many Glacier Hotel – which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year – each summer.
Seasonal rangers who lead tours of the historic five-story hotel tell about the missing staircase, and how workers who tore it out in the 1950s discovered it was packed tight with bars of hotel soap. Packrats had squirreled the stolen soaps away inside the staircase.
The Centennial Challenge Projects began with a $10 million appropriation by Congress. More than 90 partner organizations are providing another $16 million in private funds to pay for the improvements.
Germann said Glacier submitted four proposals to the Park Service for 2015. Glacier officials anticipate more projects may be approved in 2016.